Art preservation, and the importance of accessibility

One thing I’ve always been unusually fixated on is the concept of preserving things, sometimes even to the point of borderline paranoia. I’m constantly making backups and more backups of things (both of my stuff and stuff I’ve gotten from others. And I think the hardest pill I’ve had to swallow regarding this is that there’s no way you can preserve something forever.

I’m an self-published indie creator (and very proud of it), so preservation of my work, like my UTAU libraries or my music, is almost entirely dependent on my own ability to maintain it. Physical media, of course, deteriorates no matter how hard you try to take care of it; even digital media is subject to the limitations of the physical drive it’s kept in, or even bit rot. And as nice as it is that digital media is easy to copy, I’ve still had to migrate my files from service to service hoping that the links won’t die this time, as services and clouds keep imploding. It’s a lot of work to keep this up! And despite all of my best efforts, I have to accept the fact that I am inevitably going to die someday (it’s morbid to put it this way, but after all, I’m an ordinary human being), and who’s going to maintain that when I’m gone?

“If you can read this, congratulations—the archive you’re using still knows about the mouseover text�!

Even if I weren’t an indie creator, I still don’t think I could trust companies with preservation; see the cases of the BBC infamously writing over Doctor Who tapes, or Square Enix losing the source code of older Final Fantasy games. In the end, I had to accept the horrible truth that ephemerality is inevitable. You can’t guarantee something will last forever; the only thing you can do is try to prolong its preservation as much as possible.

So, after accepting that, the question became what I could do to maximize my work’s chance of lasting for as long as possible? And in the end, the only conclusion I came to was that the best chance of my work’s survival was making it as accessible to as many people as possible. In the above-mentioned Doctor Who case, some of the tapes were recovered thanks to third parties finding copies and sending them back to the BBC. There are countless other cases where art that could have been considered “lost” was saved by people all over the world maintaining their own copies. In this world, the best thing we all have is each other.

I think that’s why I’ve gotten obsessed with trying to make my work accessible. Obviously, I do still want to have some control over my work; I have to pay the bills (I’m a hobbyist, but the things I do have material costs, and it’s nice to have more to sustain my fees with), and I request that people not repost my work without my permission (at least, as long as I’m alive). But if I want to have a shot at my work surviving for very long, each person who is kind enough to enjoy my work and take a copy for themselves is adding another opportunity for my work to survive a little longer. I’m trying every outlet I can possibly use, from physical media that isn’t dependent on cloud or streaming services, to digital downloads that are easy to copy and keep intact. I try to keep my prices low, at least to a level that’s reasonably affordable for both myself and the buyer, and I try to make sure a variety of inexpensive options are available. And, of course, for any of this to work, it has to involve actual ownership of the physical copy or file, so I do make it a point to distribute the actual items/files, not just streaming them or providing access to them.

Everyone has different feelings about what they want for their art, so maybe it’s just me, but for me, “accessibility” is one of the most important things I can offer with it. Every person who’s kind enough to support my work by buying or downloading it is helping it live a little longer and allowing my hard work to keep reaching people, and I really appreciate it. I put my effort into these things in the hopes they can continue to reach others, so what’s the point if it can’t do that anymore? I think — especially when it comes to art — sharing and appreciating things together is one of the most powerful things we can do, and the best things are created and maintained when we all continue to help each other. And it’s also why I have no patience for models that try to promote exclusivity, or remove the concept of “ownership” from the equation, because that’s the exact kind of thing I’ve been working so hard against for all of this time.

Thank you to everyone who’s been supporting my work. I really hope that all of us, creators and audience members alike, can continue to keep sharing and supporting each other.

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